Russia’s Putin Calls Berlusconi a Dear, Wise Friend and Statesman

Sputnik/Alexey Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Italian Member of the European Parliament Silvio Berlusconi at an airport in Rome, Italy July 4, 2019. Picture taken July 4, 2019.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi a dear friend and an outstanding politician in a tribute to the former prime minister who died on Monday aged 86.

“For me, Silvio was a dear person, a true friend. I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations,” Putin said in a message of condolence.

Berlusconi will be remembered in Russia as a “consistent and principled supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries,” he said.

Like former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Berlusconi cultivated close relations with Moscow during Putin’s first years in the Kremlin from 2000 onwards.

Both Berlusconi and Schroeder became personal friends of the Russian leader and were criticized in the West for standing by him long after Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

Berlusconi drew condemnation just before Italy’s election last year when he said Putin had been “pushed” into invading Ukraine months earlier and had wanted to put “decent people” in charge in Kyiv.

“Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this special operation,” he said at the time in a TV interview, using Putin’s own euphemism.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying: “The aggression against Ukraine is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”

In a Russian TV interview on Monday, Putin called Berlusconi “a world-class politician, there are few such people in the international arena now.” He also noted Berlusconi’s role in forging dialog between Russia and NATO.

In street interviews, ordinary Russians paid their respects to Berlusconi.

“We’ve known him for a long time. He was a friend to our country,” said Muscovite Yulia Kuznetsova.

Alexei, who declined to give his last name, said Berlusconi was part of a Europe that had now “turned its back” on Russia.

“We are looking eastwards now. But he was a good man. A towering figure. May he rest in peace,” he said.